Whitetail Hunting Tactics – Hinge cutting to create bedding areas
Often, when spring rolls around our minds tend to focus on turkey hunting and ice out, but it is also a great time to scout and plan for the fall hunting season. Spring is a great time to monitor trail systems on your property and relocate stand locations that did not produce positive results the previous fall.
An often overlooked aspect of maintaining a productive property is the management of bedding cover. Without quality bedding areas, you will not consistently hold deer on your property. One of our properties in western Wisconsin is a perfect example of what can be done to recreate thick bedding cover that will hold deer year-round. What was once thick unpenetrable undergrowth had slowly matured into towering maples and poplars that were so dominant that all new growth had ceased to establish. The forest floor was so open that you could literally drive a golf ball through the heart of it. Once old growth reaches a certain maturity, the canopy will crowd out sunlight to the forest floor. The constant shade makes it very difficult for new growth to take hold and establish itself. Maples and poplars are fast growing trees that are often the culprit of this process. So, we opted to do a little bedding cover rehab. Depending on the size and maturity of the tree, some were selected as hinge cuts and some were completely cut through. The area that we chose was a ridge bench running along a small bean field that consisted of approximately 1/2 acre of non-favorable old growth trees. I tend to avoid cutting areas that have browse producing trees such as oak. The results can be seen below.
There are multiple benefits of hinge cutting an area:
1. Better bedding habitat
2. Create funnels and blocks
3. Increase browse and new growth
4. Hold more deer year-round
5. Inexpensive habitat improvement
It is best to work in teams of at least 2, a cutter and a spotter. Larger trees don’t always fall as planned and an extra set of eyes can prevent injuries. I know that we all want to “John Wayne” it sometimes, but it is important to play it safe and wear protective gear. Gloves, safety glasses, ear plugs and a helmet are a must. Wearing a helmet might sound like overkill, but falling debris is a significant hazard when dropping trees.
How to hinge cut:
A proper hinge cut is cut downward at a 45-degree angle or flat approximately two-thirds of the way through the tree. When a flat cut is made, it helps to have a hinge tool or wedge handy to push the tree in the direction you want it to fall after the cut is made. The key is to leave the remaining one-third of the tree attached to the stump. This allows the tree to remain alive and bud for years to come which provides food to the deer heard. Making your cuts at a height of 4-5 ft will make the area most productive for whitetail bedding. Do not make the area too thick with dead-falls; the deer need to to be able to get in and out effectively for it to be successful. If whitetails feel “trapped” while inside the area, they will likely not use it.
– A good chainsaw
– Hand saw
– 10″ or 12″ plastic wedge
– Safety gear (helmet, eye protection, ear plugs, gloves)
– 6′ to 8′ hinge tool
Extra Tip: If you want to go over the top, you can create the exact location a deer will bed with a little extra work. If at all possible, whitetails prefer to bed with a backrest and on bare ground. To re-create this, you need to cut a fallen tree into 4′-6′ sections and place them on the flattest ground that you can find throughout your new hinge cut area. Next, rake the leaves away from the edges of the log, so that bare ground is exposed. It will not take long for the deer in your area to utilize their new bedroom amenities.One of my favorite aspects of selecting an area to cut is planning the placement of hunting stand locations around the cut zone. With a little extra planning, you can get deer to bed in a given area as well as funnel their travel in a given direction. If you know the prevailing wind direction and where you want your stands placed, you can tilt the odds in your favor to have more successful hunts in the fall. If you hinge an area correctly, you can direct deer traffic to trails that benefit you best.Bottom line, hinge cutting will create better hunting opportunities on your property. If you are an avid deer hunter and are looking for a low-cost and effective project that has an immediate impact on your deer heard, an afternoon of hinge cutting can have a big impact on the whitetail habitat on your property and can lead to better hunting opportunities in the future.